The 8 Ways Walking Can Save Your Life

Wouldn’t it be great if the simple act of walking could lengthen your life, make you healthier and even make you look better? The good news is this: practically every medical expert says that the single best exercise for people of all ages and abilities is walking.

The really good news is that a wealth of new scientific research has discovered that walking does much more for us than make us a bit healthier. It actually can make us live longer, help relieve dozens of physical ailments, boost weight loss for those who need to drop a few (or more than a few) pounds, and enhance our psychological well-being.

Better Than Running?

After decades as a marathon and ultra-distance runner, I decided to hang up my Nikes shortly after reaching my 58th birthday. The endless miles were beginning to take a toll on my mind, and were no longer the joy they once were. I had always enjoyed my between-race recovery walks so much that I decided to look into walking as a main form of exercise.

What I discovered was a pleasant surprise, and within a few months I was again looking forward to heading out the door each day. As a newly-minted walking enthusiast, I haven’t had a single regret about exchanging fast miles for slower ones. There’s a lot to be said for a slower pace, enjoying the scenery, and not being obsessed with speed and distance.

The most interesting part of my research on walking was the medical aspect. Below are a few of the ways walking can enhance and lengthen your life. The information is culled from various medical sites and books on the subject. For millions of people over 40, and even for a lot of younger folks, walking really is “the new running.”

How Walking Can Make Your Life Better and Longer

  • Walking a quarter-mile per day can decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other common types of dementia by 50 percent. Of course, there’s no guarantee that you won’t get dementia if you walk, but the Arthritis Foundation has details of the study on the relationship between walking and decreased dementia risk.
  • People who walk every day lower their risk of various heart problems and high blood pressure. According to experts at a major national health institute, walking every day is one of the most positive physical habits for adults who want to stay healthy.
  • Even a short, 10-minute walk can go a long way toward making you feel better both mentally and physically. Because walking releases endorphins, walkers are depressed less often and when they do experience depressive episodes, the bouts are less severe. Scientists think that regularly opening up the endorphin pathways allows the brain to maintain a non-depressive state all day, not just during or shortly after a walk. There is apparently something about moving the entire body that the human brain responds to in a universally positive manner.
  • It’s good for your bones, as is most weight-bearing exercise. Any motion that works against gravity is considered “weight-bearing” according to scientists. Walking is one such activity and it has been shown in lab studies to help build healthier bone structure. This is important for those who are at risk for osteoporosis and others who just want to maintain good bone health.
  • Walking burns calories very efficiently. Regular walking helps burn calories not just during exercise, but even when we sleep. During a brisk walk, you burn about 50 calories every 10 minutes, but the benefits last long afterward. Strengthening the muscles of your lower body has lasting effects, and helps the body increase its resting metabolic rate. That means more efficient muscles, and more calories burned throughout the day, and even while sleeping.
  • For respiratory health, walking is the ideal exercise. In the same way that muscles grow stronger when we use them, so do the lungs. Walking forces our bodies to require more oxygen, thus causing us to breathe more deeply. The result is stronger, more efficient lungs for those who walk regularly.
  • Walking is a great way to socialize. Walking clubs exist in just about every city in the world, especially in large U.S. urban areas. Not only is it good for you, but walking can help you meet new people, develop social skills, and learn more about a geographic area. Even in places where you might be reluctant to walk alone, walking clubs are a wonderful way to find safety in numbers. The Public Broadcasting Corporation has an extensive resource page for people who want to find walking clubs. Click here to see the list.
  • A long walk is the perfect time to think though your daily plans or just meditate. In fact, there are even books and CDs about how to meditate while walking. An ancient practice, walking meditation is more like mindfulness and super-awareness than the seated meditation techniques that most people are familiar with. Either way, after just a little practice, anyone can learn how to meditate while walking. (And don’t worry, meditating while walking won’t cause you to bump into things).

 

Run, Don’t Walk, To Find These Walking Books

After reading every running book on the market, my switch to walking opened up a whole new world of research and learning. Two books helped a lot. One is a multi-use volume by Dr. S. Don Kim, called “Walking Cure: 9 Week Walking Program to Overcome Obesity, Back Pain, Diabetes, Hypertension, Depression, Insomnia, Stress, Emotional Trauma and Spiritual Misalignment.” The good doctor outlines various walking programs for all ages, and goes into the details about how walking can combat just about any health problem.

Kim’s book makes an ideal reference work. Besides the basic data on the benefits of walking, he delineates dozens of diseases and maladies that walking can address. So even if you aren’t interested in the section on hypertension right now, the day may come when you want to show it to a friend who is in need of a life-changing exercise routine.

The other walking book that served me well was Nina Barough’s “Walking for Fitness.” Barough covers all the bases for walkers who want to know how to design a program for their specific needs. Beginners and those new to walking, like I was, will enjoy the non-technical language and the many different programs in the book. “Walking for Fitness” is, in my opinion, one of the very best books for new walking enthusiasts.

A Step in the Right Direction

Even if you are “converting” to walking from some other sport, it’s always a smart idea to have a medical checkup. For people who are relatively inactive and who want to begin a walking program, a visit to the doctor is a necessity.

If you take up walking as a casual practitioner or a dedicated enthusiast, leave a comment below and tell us about your own journey into the amazing, life-changing, healthful world of walking. And feel free to visit our Facebook page to share some of your own walking and exercise stories. We’d love to hear them.

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